Whether you're a fan of PC or console gaming, the fact remains that the PC gaming hardware market looks set to expand over the next few years, which is impressive considering the economic climate.
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Back in 2004 I was putting together a Pentium 4 gaming system when a colleague observed that he was in the process of selling off the valuable components of his rig because “PC gaming is dead". In fairness, his justification was reasonable – he’d bought an original Xbox (in reality nothing more than a PC in a box) and was looking forward to the impending release of the Xbox 360.
It would be wrong to criticise that particular individual – the motherboard he sold me for a small amount was better than the one I could afford – but let’s face it: he was wrong about PC gaming.
But for some reason this has been the story again and again over the past few years. With new consoles and amazing peripherals, the whole PC gaming industry is given its death knell (despite expanding and embracing new systems such as digital delivery and platforms such as Mac OS X), with the resulting repeated online debates proving only that the claims are false.
Of course, for the PC gaming industry to end, the hardware would have to dry up or be unable to compete with consoles. That shows no sign of happening any time soon.
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The Timeless Argument
If you’re unaware of the endless quarrel between fans of gaming PCs and consoles, it is basically this: consoles are the future, PC gaming is yesterday’s news, so get with the program.
Naturally the PC gamers refute this, but they’re often too busy playing on the biggest multiplayer gaming networks without paying for the pleasure. Discussions on some hardware review forums date back years, and yet despite the fact that such websites are still running, there are still people pushing the pro-console agenda.
Looking at the situation holistically, however, you see that the competition is often based on the same old arguments: quality of games, style of gameplay, the controller vs keyboard argument and benchmarking and specifications. Ultimately, the enthusiasts on both sides are playing top trumps with hardware specs.
Of course, the squabble exists away from forums and Facebook; the same taunting between PC gamers and console gamers can persist offline, in clubs, offices and schools, often taking precedence over the inevitable disagreement between Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners about which platform is best.
But hold on a moment. Does owning a PC that you like to play games on preclude you from playing on a games console? Does being a fan of console-based games mean that you have no interest in playing games with a mouse and keyboard? Of course it doesn't!
Clearly there is an overlap – if people like games, they will play them on whatever happens to be the best platform at the time. It just so happens that in 2011, the best platform is a mid- to high-end PC, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case in five years’ time.
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What the Facts Say
Fortunately for those of us with PCs, the facts don’t support the pro-console gaming audience. Recent figures show that through 2011 more than a quarter of a million game-capable PCs and laptops will be shipped out to homes and businesses. This is in contrast to the paltry 220 million Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii consoles that have shipped since 2005.
That’s a poor showing for six years!
Moreover, the figures don’t expect any immediate contraction of the PC gaming hardware market, said to be worth a massive US$27 billion by 2014.
What this means is that despite the existence of consoles, people are still playing games on their computers. In addition, gamers interested in getting the maximum experience from the latest titles are still expected to buy the latest graphics cards, cooling units, motherboard and processor combinations, solid-state drives and memory modules.
It’s easy to argue that the owners of consoles don’t have to bother with any of these things, but the fact is that the whole scenario is like a close horse race with consoles leaping ahead whenever a new generation of devices is launched, countered a few years down the line by computers edging ahead when the hardware becomes more advanced.
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PC Hardware and the Next Generation of Consoles
Looking at how this argument has progressed and regressed over the past few years, it’s probably fair to say that it’s about to restart.
Both Microsoft and Sony have been quietly revising launch date plans for their third generation consoles and optimistic estimates place the mooted Xbox 720 as being released in 2012.
In truth, 2013-2014 is more realistic, and regardless of whether Microsoft releases a low-end entertainment-and-gaming device alongside the hardcore gamers’ console or not, the fact is that the new Xbox (and presumably Sony’s successor to the PlayStation 3) will put most PC graphics and hardware to shame for a few years until prices level out again and parity between these different but equally compelling methods of gaming can once again be established.
When this happens, get ready for a deluge of “PC gaming is dead" forum posts, Facebook statuses and Tweets, then check back in six years’ time for another article just like this one.